Friday, November 4, 2011

I've suffered from life all of my depression

I couldn't resist using the abovementioned quote for my title, which gave me a knowing smirk when I first read it.  I've taken it from a tweet made by Lauren Greenberg who goes by the Twitter handle @LaurenGberg.  It sums up rather succinctly my take on the mental dis-ease we call "depression."  Much like the quote from Catch 22 about paranoia (also echoed in Nirvana's song "Territorial Pissings"): "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you", my thoughts on depression are the same: Just because you're prone to depression and anxiety, doesn't mean that the world isn't depressing and stressful.


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As a North American (and I suspect this describes much of the rest of the Western society) one almost seems hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't have a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with some sort of behavioural or emotional dis-ease, if they haven't already been diagnosed with one themselves.  According to a 2010 study nearly half of American adolescents now meet the criteria for a mental health disorder and according to a study that examined American adults between 2001 and 2003, it was found that 46% of the participants met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives.

So does the fact that so many people are "meeting the criteria" for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADD, OCD, schizophrenia, autism, etc., just mean that all of us are getting sicker en-masse? Could there be a societal cause? Could the cause be environmental?  Could it be that big pharma has colluded with the psychiatric industry to to invent new dis-eases by pathologizing the extremes of normal human emotion? Or were there already basically the same percentage of people with these dis-eases in existence over most of human history but we just didn't have the criteria and field of study to classify them?


Classify me


Given the somewhat skeptical, sardonic and pessimistic views expressed in this blog, it would probably be of no surprise to any returning visitors that I have been diagnosed with depression.  But what does this diagnosis really mean?  Did I get a brain scan of any sort?  Did they take any blood?  Were there any attempts to observe or measure the amounts of dopamine and serotonin flowing through my brain?  Nope.  Some dude just listened to me talk for a while then prescribed drugs that would slow my brain's re-uptake of serotonin.

Wait... What?

A psychiatrist spoke to me and asked me questions then gave me a pill to fix the re-uptake of a specific chemical in my brain...

It's funny how so few of us question this type of diagnosis, yet imagine if you had a serious pain in your chest and your doctor just asked you questions over an hour then prescribed you a pill; wouldn't you be seeking a secondary opinion or at least ask "aren't you going to do some physical test of some sort?"  I think it's kind of scary that doctors can prescribe psychoactive chemicals to someone based simply on self-reported symptoms.  How does the doctor even know if the patient is being completely honest or accurate in relaying their situation?  When there are no physical tests involved, it seems to me that it leaves an uncomfortably thin line between medically treating someone for an actual imbalance in their brain, and simply deciding that someone's emotions fall outside the supposed norm and therefore the cure is to treat them medically.  It begins to sound dangerously like a Brave New World, where the solution to a person's displeasure and failure to conform to social norms is to give them a pill.

And who gets to classify what is normal and what is abnormal?  How does one decide what is a logical reaction and what is a reaction that is only explainable by an abnormal chemical process?

The Western "bible" of mental disorder classifications is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM for short.  Produced by the American Psychiatric Association, it is a fundamental document for much of the psychiatric community worldwide.  The manual was first published in 1952, and has undergone many revisions since then.

In this video psychologist Bruce E. Levine discusses the tenuousness of the official diagnoses for psychological disorders listed in the DSM and how some so-called disorders are added to the DSM purely based on political and social reasons – a big example being homosexuality, which was finally removed from the DSM in the 1970s.

Levine also argues that the ever more common diagnoses among children of such "mental disorders" as ADHD, and (my favourite) Oppositional Defiant Disorder, boil down to kids not acting as their society wants and expects them to.  He points out that very few disorders in the DSM can be observed and determined by a lab test, and asserts that conditions which can be tested and observed in this manner are truly neurological and not psychiatric. Levine argues that many of these "disorders" listed in the DSM are simply behaviours that society at large doesn't like – things in others which bother us or inconvenience us in some way.  He refers to this as the "medicalizing and diseasing of normal human processes."

Another Psychiatrist who is critical of the psychiatric industry is Thomas Szasz.  Szasz is a proponent of self ownership and warns how "the classification of (mis)behavior as illness provides an ideological justification for state-sponsored social control as medical treatment."   He also points out that mental illness is in effect a "metaphorical disease": "Individuals with brain diseases (bad brains) or kidney diseases (bad kidneys) are literally sick. Individuals with mental diseases (bad behaviors)...are metaphorically sick." (And as an aside: I love the quote at the top of the main page of Szasz's website: "If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia.")
 
I'm also extremely curious as to how those who create the classifications in the DSM decide what is socially and psychologically "normal".  What or who is the litmus test? What previous data do they use to compare today's patients to, especially considering the drastic changes in the social environment of people living in Western society today, compared to those living just a half-century ago?  In just the last 25 years alone, the advent of the internet and the increase and saturation of media has drastically changed how people identify themselves, how they express themselves, and how they interact with others.  Some believe that the internet is literally changing the way our brains our wired, and yet the psychiatric community is still treating patients today using theories, principles and treatment methods that are several decades old, not to mention using a class of drugs that was by and large developed in the 1970s.


Speaking of drugs...


I'm even beginning to wonder if the drugs do anything at all or whether both the illness and the cure are in the mind.  A couple of bees in Big Pharma's bonnet are some recent studies which have shown that some antidepressants have the same success rate or sometimes perform worse than placebos and that the placebo effect overall is getting stronger.  Another study has shown that even if the participants in a drug trial are advised that the pills they are being given are placebos, their condition still improves over those who took no pill at all.

To think that the key to happiness might just be a lie and a sugar pill....


Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.  –Candide


Another angle to consider is whether depression is a neurological problem or simply a logical reaction.  In other words: Are one's depressive symptoms the result of a biochemical misfiring in the brain or a logical reaction to outside stimuli?

When we look at Western society today and the influence of the American Empire–with it's reality TV shows, rampant waste, plastic surgeries, violent movies and TV programs, laughable "news" media, idolatry, corporatization and centralization, environmental destruction, war mongering, etc... – wouldn't it seem that depression would be a logical (albeit, not the most constructive) reaction?

A study published by Professor William Vega in the 1998 American Medical Association's Archives of General Psychiatry would seem to echo that idea:  Vega studied Mexican nationals, recent immigrants, Mexicans living in the US for several years and US-born Mexicans and he found that the longer Mexicans lived in the US, the higher their rates of mental illness – more than two-times the rate of Mexican nationals or new immigrants.  Not only that, but they discovered "that the rate of mental illness climbed consistently after immigration, so that Mexicans who had been in this country for more than 13 years had nearly the same high rate as native-born Americans."  Although to be fair, this is but one study and I didn't find any information on how Vega discounted other possible environmental factors, or changes in diet and activity levels in this study, but I found it difficult to find any information on studies pertaining to the effects of Western society on depression, which in itself is troubling.  It would seem to me that this is a rather large piece of the puzzle that is being omitted, and leaves me to ask "why?"

Could it be that as our access to information widens and the veils of mystery over many subjects become lifted, we can no longer live under the spell of cognitive dissonance that our illogical and destructive society has relied so much upon?  As much as our modern media and the internet are often blamed for turning our brains to an ADD mush, I also wonder if having almost instant and unlimited access to information is making us all more cynical and skeptical and and less likely to fall for the illusion of the sanitised and idealised life of leisure and luxury that is being sold to us by our media. 

Certainly there have been those who have espoused the concept of depressive realism–currently defined in Wikipedia as "the proposition that people with depression actually have a more accurate perception of reality, specifically that they are less affected by positive illusions of illusory superiority, the illusion of control and optimism bias." 

In this Slate interview with Joshua Wolf Shenk (the author of a book titled Lincoln's Melancholy in which he puts forth that Abraham Lincoln struggled with major depression), he quotes a science journalist on an experiment whose results seemed to coincide with the idea of depressive realism: "One cognitive symptom of depression might be the loss of optimistic, self-enhancing biases that normally protect healthy people against assaults to their self-esteem. In many instances, depressives may simply be judging themselves and the world much more accurately than non-depressed people, and finding it not a pretty place."

And in reading the Wikipedia article on dysthymia the "mental illness" with which I personally have been "officially diagnosed" – I was amused to find this statement: "When treating diagnosed individuals, it is often difficult to tell whether they are under unusually high environmental stress or the dysthymia is causing them to be more psychologically stressed in a standard environment."

Granted the abovementioned comment has no attached reference and could just have been a regular Joe's opinion, but statements like these do make me wonder:  How much does the rise in the number of people diagnosed with mental disorders have to do with confusing correlation with causation?  How many times does a psychiatrist have someone sit down in their office, tell them their life's story and the psychiatrist says: "Wow.  You've really had some tough experiences. No wonder you're depressed!" then goes on to help them with coping methods, without so much as mentioning the use of drugs?


Or is it all in the genes?

..."It's all in the genes": an explanation for the way things are that does not threaten the way things are.  Why should someone feel unhappy or engage in antisocial behavior when that person is living in the freest and most prosperous nation on earth?  It can't be the system!  There must be a flaw in the wiring somewhere.   –Louis Menand, from his 2006 New Yorker review of a Timothy Leary biography by Robert Greenfield


After having said all of this, I do not discount the existence of biologically-based depression.  I do believe that chemical imbalances in the brain can exist and that such imbalances would undoubtedly affect one's emotional responses and thought processes, sometimes in a detrimental manner, however the question remains as to what percentage of those suffering from chemically-based depression have the illness due to genetic or biological causes, versus external, environmental reasons.

As Menard stated in the aforementioned quote, the genetic excuse is certainly the preferable one.  Not only does it mean that society doesn't have to step back and take a look at itself, but it also means a heck of a lot more money for the drug companies and psychiatric profession.

Physician Gabor Maté is one who is critical of the idea that there is a genetic basis to mental illnesses; he places far more weight on the role that experiences in childhood play in the development of the human brain.  He also speaks more towards the relationship between stress and abuse and mental illness, such as in this 2011 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!  Much like Western Society's take on crime, we prefer to treat the symptoms of mental illness, but not so much the cause, because that might mean totally rethinking the basic structures of our society, including how we raise and educate our children.  It's much easier to give a pill to someone later in life than it is to invest time, funds and effort towards providing a better environment in which their brains could develop from the start.  It's also much easier than addressing whether the adults in a child's life may be abusing or neglecting them in some way and, if so, why that is.

Commenting on a study I mentioned earlier, Maté states in the Democracy Now! interview that the fact that nearly half of American adolescents meet criteria for mental health disorders means that "we’re talking about a massive impact on our children of something in our culture that’s just not being recognized."

In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, he puts forth the idea that the human brain does not develop on its own according to a genetic program, and that its development depends very much on the environment. And as he asserts in the Democracy Now! interview, the essential condition for the physiological development of the brain circuits that regulate human behaviour is "the presence of emotionally available, consistently available, non-stressed, attuned parenting caregivers."  Maté points out that prior to the advent of the Nuclear Family, "the normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family," and that "essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development."


On a much funnier note, here is a great (NSFW) bit from comedian Doug Stanhope about how our society tends to medicalise the effect rather looking at the cause.


Last thoughts


Yes, once again I have expressed my opinion and have cherry-picked a bunch of references and links to support them, but alas that is one frustration of having a human mind (but that is also the benefit of having a personal blog!)  As always I encourage any and all commentary. 

There are a couple of things that I recognise about my own issues:  I don't doubt that my diet and lack of physical activity play a part and I have yet to get those two issues under control for long enough to see how much of a difference improvements in those areas would make.  I also don't discount the negative cycle that arises from negative thoughts due to that irksome propensity of the human brain known as confirmation bias.

And at times I wonder if I really would have been better off if I had never suffered from depression.  If I was never depressed or dissatisfied with life, would I ever have felt the need to question any of it?  Would this blog have existed at all?  Would I have ever bothered to think outside the box if I was comfortable with the box we call "normalcy"?  Which brings me back to the question: Who decides what is okay for us to tolerate about life versus what we find unacceptable?  What is the benchmark?

And when I am in my deepest pits of despair and I am feeling at my most hopeless, I often think of more centred and positive people in my life and wonder: What is it that keeps people wanting to live on?  What makes life so great that one is willing to put up with the many frustrations and obstacles in life?  How do people living life sentences in prison live on?  How do people living in war-torn third world countries live on?  How do people who have lost everything live on?  

One book that has piqued my interest, whose title I came across somewhere along the way to making this post, is Man's Search for Meaning – a book written by neurologist, psychologist and the father of Logotherapy Viktor Frankl about his experiences as a Nazi concentration camp survivor.  I hope to garner some wisdom from his ideas. I have definitely added Man's Search for Meaning to my long list of books I would like to read.  If I gain any insights I will be sure to share them in a future post.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

False dichotomies

Just because I disagree with Obama it doesn't mean I am a right-winger, and just because I disagree with Stephen Harper it doesn't mean I am a left-winger.

Just because I disagree with the bible's interpretation of the history of our and the universe, it doesn't mean that I agree with evolutionary theory, nor does it mean that I discount the idea that there is some sort of intelligence behind the existence or inner-workings of our universe.

Just because I question the theory of Anthropocentric Climate Change it doesn't mean that I think pollution is good, that we should continue to use fossil fuels, that destruction of the planet is good and that we have not changed the Earth in devastating and irreversible ways.

Just because I believe in a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body it doesn't mean that I think abortion is right, that the life of a fetus is worth less than the life of a conceived human, that I don't understand the history of Planned Parenthood.

Just because I don't believe the official report on the events of 9/11 it doesn't mean that I think Bush, Cheney et al were directly responsible.

Just because I disagree with the treatment of Palestinians it doesn't mean that I am anti-Semitic, that I think the Jews should be forced to leave Israel, nor that I agree with Palestinian-on-Jew violence.

The world is not so black and white, even though our media often tells us so.  Unfortunately we in the Western world are very rarely taught about how to think critically and our news is full of "this side" versus "that side" punditry.  I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and truly try to understand what another people are saying.  We should try not to jump to conclusions and it is also good practice to repeat your understanding of another person's comments before commenting in return (I say this having rarely done it myself, but it is nonetheless true.)

BTW: Just because I posted this doesn't mean that I don't make rash decisions and claims based on emotion and faulty logic.  And if anyone catches me doing it, please call me out on it!

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Further reading on related topics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking

And for humorous musings on self delusion and irrational thinking I highly recommend the blog You Are Not So Smart.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The climate change debate

If you've just scoffed at the title of this post, rolled your eyes and thought to yourself "what debate?" then you probably feel the same way that I felt a few years ago. I used to believe the theory of Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC), but like many of the other issues I've posted to this blog, I am questioning this one too.

I will be the first to tell you that I have no scientific background, but I have come across enough alternative views on the subject over the past couple of years to make me pause for thought. I've also come to the realisation that I had never really questioned the science behind ACC theory — I just figured that the pollution emitted by man must be having some sort of negative effect on the Earth, and weather does seem to be getting worse these days, and we are told time and again the majority of scientists agree with ACC, and the conservative right, oil & gas corporations, and other nasty corporate interests are all against the idea of ACC, therefore the ACC theory must be correct.   But if you've read some of my previous posts you will know by now my opinion of the MSM, government and the left/right paradigm...


Some of the issues I have with AGW/ACC are the following:
  • It assumes that mathematical models are an accurate picture of the future
  • It is a theory based on data from a very small piece of our planet's climate history
  • I take issue with the argument that ACC must be true because "the majority of scientists" believe it
  • Simply questioning or showing any bit of skepticism towards any part of the larger ACC debate automatically makes one a "Climate Change Denier"
  • I also believe that there were some troubling discoveries within those University of East Anglia (UEA) emails which got leaked to the public, although you wouldn't know it by the MSM's coverage of the story... 
  • Not to mention the unsettling fact that the UEA’s Climatic Research Unit has actually dumped much of the raw data on which their theories are based, so one would have a very hard time gathering the data in an attempt to verify their conclusions.
I'll get into some of these issues and more below:

    Predicting the future

    The ACC theory relies a lot modeled and projected data.  Yes, we may be able to extrapolate an educated guess based on past data, but even science cannot predict the future.  Climate is an extremely complex and unpredictable beast.  Meteorologists can't predict next year's weather, let alone accurately predict tomorrow's weather, so how is it we can claim to know what will happen decades or centuries down the road, even if we look at data from the past?

    ACC science also takes data from very different sources and tries to make a larger coherent picture from those disparate sources.  For example, in one part of the world we may only have ice core samples, in another part we might only have tree ring data, in another sea-levels, etc.  Apparently there are also weather stations  that are situated in questionable places such as in a parking lot surrounded by asphalt or beside an air conditioner outtake vent.  Over time, some stations used to collect climate data have gone from being located in rural/suburban environments, only to see cities slowly built around them, so one would only expect these weather stations to show a recent increase in temperature.  This does not mean that the overall temperature of the Earth is increasing, just that the mean temperature of the weather station's immediate environment has increased.  In addition, asphalt holds a lot more heat than a field of grass and this is why major cities tend to have higher temperatures than outlying areas — it's called the urban heat island effect and it has nothing to do with CO2.


    "4 out 5 scientists agree..."

    Scientists are not superhuman and they are not immune to the biases, emotions and external influences to which the rest of us humans are subject. (Might I suggest reading the biography The Double Helix as an example?)  Scientists are not completely and utterly objective beings, as much as they might honestly try to be.  No single human can know the whole truth about anything; we can only see things from our own singular viewpoint which will be shaped by a vast number of variables, such as our familial, cultural and spiritual upbringing, as well as the myriad of peoples and viewpoints we've come across over our lifetimes.   Scientists are no different.  We humans are also prone to these pesky, almost autonomic, confirmation biases and we like to protect and defend our own personal viewpoints; scientists are no different.

    I can only imagine spending a lifetime coming up with a scientific theory that truly seems to make sense, earning accolades from one's peers, only to find someone else who comes along and provides evidence which challenges that viewpoint.  Scientists are not immune to bruised egos and it can take them some time to admit when they are wrong (just ask Galileo!)

    Another thing to consider is that most if not all scientific studies done on a large scale require funding and, just like politics.  Remember, most money comes from CLOGs and CLOGs are not interested in the greater good; they are not interested in the prosperity of humans outside of their corporation; they are interested in the bottom line.  The corporations who back scientific study are no different.

    By now you might be asking: "But how could you believe that so many scientists could be wrong?" Well, first of all, the "vast majority of scientists" who supposedly "agree" with the ACC theories have not actually gathered and tested the data for themselves, they are basing their opinions on the journals and papers of their peers. Even those directly involved in gathering and studying various data — ice cores, weather patterns, melting glaciers, tree-ring data — were simply responsible for their piece of the puzzle; it is only a small group who are involved in putting these pieces together into the larger ACC framework and its predictive models.  And when some of the scientists in that group are caught talking about "hiding" data and preventing peers with contrary theories from being published in peer-reviewed journals I feel less likely to believe their conclusions.

    Personally, after having watched An Inconvenient Truth, I must say that the arguments sounded quite convincing to me, and they were coming from a well spoken left-wing politician, but I realise now that this did not mean the arguments were valid or accurate. The fact is, some of the more persuasive data presented in Gore's presentation (the famous hockey stick graph and the dual graph showing the Earth's average temperature versus the Earth's CO2 levels) has since been argued to be faulty and/or misrepresented. (I found this article on the hockey stick graph from the New Scientist to be very interesting - even though it is actually supposed to debunk the claim that the hockey stick graph is unreliable, it also states: "It is true that there are big uncertainties about the accuracy of all past temperature reconstructions, and that these uncertainties have sometimes been ignored or glossed over by those who have presented the hockey stick as evidence for global warming," and that "further back in the past, though, it certainly has been hotter - and the world has been a very different place." (...Wait. What?  Do yourself the favour of reading that again.)

    Then, of course, there were the "Climategate" emails, and while I have read the explanations given by the IPCC suggesting how these emails were "misinterpreted", I must admit that their explanations don't sound very convincing.  Then in Jan 2010 it was reported that a scientist who included assertions that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 — in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report no less — later admitted that this information was fabricated and was included "purely to put political pressure on world leaders".  And keep in mind this was a Nobel Prize-winning report, and I bet you would have thought, as I had, that in order to win such a prestigious award the report must have been thoroughly checked by other scientists... (Just like how other scientists must be thoroughly evaluating the overall ACC theory, right?...)

    One also shouldn't ignore that the scientific community has a history of blackballing scientists who dare bring up a view outside of the status quo, even in the present day. (For examples of this you might consider watching the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed by Ben Stein; regardless of where you sit on the evolution/intelligent design debate, the film gives examples of scientists/professors, who didn't even necessarily believe in intelligent design, but dared to postulate on it in published papers, and suddenly found themselves blacklisted as a result.)  And let's also not forget the lessons of the Asch conformity experiment which showed that, when outnumbered, people will tend to agree with the group even if their senses are telling them that the group is wrong.  We tend to think they are emotionally removed, and completely objective beings, but scientists are human beings just like the rest of us.


    Is the world warming?

    I don't know because I haven't seen all the data for myself, nor can I comment on the algorithms used to produce the various climate graphs out there.  However, I do believe that the answer to that question really relies on how far you want to go back.

    If we look at the last hundred years, or even thousand years, the temperature could very well have increased incrementally, but if we look back over hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years, we might actually see that this century happens to be a small upward trend that is part of a much larger downward trend, or even in a steadily fluctuating trend.  The problem is that we humans have only been on this planet for about 200,000 years and yet the Earth itself is estimated at 4.55 billion (4,550,000,000) years — at least, this is the current archaeological consensus (and, yes, I totally see the irony of citing the "consensus" on the issue, but I'm no archaeologist and have not seen very credible refutations of this, so I'll have to take it for granted...for now....). So if we were to take the preceding figures for granted (and I assume ACC proponents would, since they tend to hold scientific consensus in such high regard), we humans have only been on the Earth for just over 0.004% of its history; we also only have relatively reliable climate data going back to the mid-1800s (let's say for the last 200 yrs to be safe) — so when it comes to arguably reliable climate data we are down to just 0.000004% of the Earth's history (if my math is correct, which is most certainly might not be, but the point is: It is a very small percentage!)  Not only that, but the mid-1800s also also happens to be when the Earth was starting to come out of the coldest period it had experienced in a millennia, known as the Little Ice Age.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, it would seem to me that announcing almost certain catastrophic, climate-related disasters, based on but a sliver of the Earth's overall climate history doesn't seem to be very wise or logical.  Predicting the future based on data from the past, data which is not completely verifiable, also makes me uneasy. 

    So when a right-wing repeater living in Virginia looks out her window on an April morning only to see inches of snow in her driveway and says: "Where is your 'Global Warming' now, huh?  A lot of icebergs must be melting today!", AGW proponents will rightfully point-out to such a person that you can't dispute a theory of incremental global warming just because you have one crazy winter or an especially mild summer — AGW proponents will be the first to tell you that a small downward trend in temperature doesn't cancel out the larger overall upward trend.  So on the same token, I hope that those who believe AGW understand that the exact same thing can be said about the theory that a recent upswing in temperature must mean that the planet is forever going to get warmer if we humans don't do something about it.
     
    There are also questions surrounding other possible causes for GW, such as solar activity.  Did you know that the ice caps on Mars have also been receding?  This is not information to take lightly given that we know humans are not affecting the climate on Mars.

    So is the world even warming?  It could be.  IMO, the bigger question is: If it is warming, is this truly a part of a larger trend? And even if it is part of a larger trend, are humans the cause?  I'm not convinced that ice cores, tree rings nor climate data from 0.000004% of Earth's history can ever tell us that.


    Denier, denier; pants on fire

    The label "Climate Change Denier" is also troublesome. As pointed out in what I consider to be a very thought provoking interview of Warren Meyer of Climate-Skeptic.com by Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio, to call someone a "denier" is to call them someone who ignores an irrefutable truth; therefore to give someone the label "climate change denier" is to relegate their belief to being unworthy of even being part of the debate, right from the get-go.  Warren makes the point that "denier" is such a strong word which evokes Holocaust denial.  If you think about it, the word "denier" is rarely applied to any other group of people, no matter how contrary their views might be — for example, you don't hear Americans calling Cubans "Capitalism Deniers" or religious leaders calling atheists "God deniers", or Christians calling Jews "Christ Deniers" and people who don't believe the official version of the JFK assassination aren't branded "Lee Harvey Oswald Deniers", so why such strong words regarding Climate Change?  This type of language hardly helps the image we are given that ACC proponents are a bunch of level-headed, emotionally removed and logic/fact based individuals.  And as Stefan points out in the interview, when it comes to ACC theory "skepticism is treated as unscientific, when the scientific method is actually predicated on the rigorous application of skepticism."

    As Meyer also states in the video "I don't mind being labelled a 'denier' as long as you are clear on what it is that I am denying."  Meyer says that he doesn't deny that climate change is occurring, he doesn't even dismiss that man-made CO2 emissions are playing a part, but he does debate to what degree man-made CO2 emissions actually play a part in this change (which I found to be yet another interesting angle on the debate!) and yet he is still labelled a "denier" by some.

    And I haven't even touched upon alternate theories for why the Earth might be warming, or why the water levels might be rising, etc... Some argue that the increases in temperature have much more to do with solar activity.  Others say that the reason why water levels are rising in certain parts of the Earth, but not others, as well as the increase in earthquakes and tsunamis is due to a phenomena known as post-glacial rebound.


    So what if the ACC theory is wrong?  Reducing emissions is a good thing, right?

    In my many discussions via the web on the ACC debate one invariably comes across a comment such as: "So what if we're wrong?  At least in working towards reducing CO2 emissions we will have reduced our emission of pollutants overall, reduced our dependence on fossil fuels — thereby reducing environmental catastrophes that go along with the oil and gas industry — and we will have increased investment in alternative energies, reduced environmental damage, (etc...)"

    I wholeheartedly agree that we need to get away from fossil fuels; I don't think that drilling into the earth and draining it of a substance that took millions of years to create is a good thing.  I think the recurring spills into the world's waters are devastating.  I also believe that the pollutants we spew into our air and which leach into the ground are detrimental, to say the very least.  And let's not forget the terrible toll that such things as drilling and mining take on our environment, let alone the toll it takes on the people employed to extract this stuff from the earth.  Then there are all of the wars fought over these substances, not to mention the West's history of meddling in the affairs of countries who have a large cache of them. However, what also worries me is the world focusing the bulk of it's energies towards CO2 specifically.

    IMO, accepting that rises in CO2 is causing warming of the Earth when this may not be the case is dangerous for a couple of reasons: A) It could cause a whole whack of money and resources to be put towards a relatively minor or possibly non-existent problem instead of being put towards serious, long-term and ongoing issues affecting humanity, such as the toxic effects of pollution, our ever-growing waste management issues, lack of clean drinking water, child poverty, third-world hunger, animal and plant extinction, etc... B.) The main "solution" being pushed by CLOGs right now is the Cap and Trade scheme; capping emissions/imposing penalties on those who emit CO2 could cause developing nations to be unable to pull themselves out of third-world status.  It seems kind of hypocritical for us in the West to say: "Yeah, well, we were wrong to rape and pillage the environment around the world for centuries in the name of industry and human progress, but now that we've reaped the rewards we realise just how wrong this was, so, sorry guys, but you won't be able to reap those same rewards.  Sucks to be you..."

    I think when asking ourselves "what is the harm in believing in anthropogenic global warming?" the questions we should also be asking ourselves are: What solutions are being offered by CLOGs around the world? Who is to gain from these solutions?  And how might it negatively affect the world if we're actually wrong about ACC and/or it's cause?


    So if ACC is wrong, then why is there such a push towards the ACC theory?  

    This is another great question to which I do not know the answer.

    There are certainly those who think this is part of the larger New World Order (NWO) plot — that there is a global plot, run by a small elite group of bankers and wealthy families, with plans to bankrupt the world and/or reduce the world's population — and that the ACC theory is the perfect way to get the world's citizens to voluntarily have less children (since larger families = a larger carbon footprint), but to also be able to subject them to carbon taxes and fines without much fuss  because it is all being done for "the greater good".

    Certainly I hope this is not some sort of premeditated plot to pull some fast one on the world's population by playing their fears about planetary catastrophe, although I wouldn't put it past CLOGs to use fear to swindle us in to accepting things we wouldn't otherwise accept.  On the other hand, my main problem with accepting the NWO theory is: If you were making up ACC in order to swindle the planet, how could you possibly insure that the climate would get hotter/more severe as time went on?  ...Well, some would say that the PTB know of the effect of the sunspot activity on the planet and that it was predicted that this activity would be slowly increasing, thereby insuring an increase in temperature.  There are also those who theorise that HAARP and/or chemtrails are being used to artificially warm-up our atmosphere and/or to affect the weather.  I don't have enough knowledge of physics, astro-physics or chemistry to either validate or dismiss any of these theories.

    However, I wonder if it's a less nefarious and complex situation; I wonder if proponents of ACC, like Gore for example, honestly believed in the ACC theory and the data supporting it. We have to remember that someone like Gore is not a scientist himself and so he has to rely upon and emphatically trust the information given to him by the scientists he works with.  But what if down the road — after convincing so many people of his theories, accumulating investors, and helping to bring about environmental legislation around the world — it was discovered that the scientists made errors, or had some faulty data or data which they misinterpreted, or that some scientists purposefully skewed data to appease the theories of Gore et al?  When so much money is resting on these theories, do you just keep going along and hope for the best, consoling oneself with the "So what if we're wrong? At least we've reduced our emission of pollutants, reduced our dependence on fossil fuels..." mantra?

    And how hard would it be really, to keep us guessing?  As an example, I saw this Huffington Post article about how melting see ice is causing "tens of thousands" of walruses to be "forced ashore".  I mean, I'm no Alaskan walrus expert, but how do I know that there wasn't some explosion in their population this year?  How do I know that this isn't a regular migration ritual?  How do I know that there wasn't some other event which caused them to migrate to waters they don't normally migrate to? How do I know if this is even occurring at all if, as the article states, the area has been declared a no-fly zone so as not to "spook" the walruses? (I have to admit, it reminded me of what BP did to reporters trying to get shots of the Gulf spill...)  Then the article ends with the statement: "According to National Geographic, this is the first time this many walruses have taken to the beach in this particular area, though similar incidents have occurred in other parts of Alaska and Russia in years past."  You can take this two ways:  Either they are saying "well, this has happened before, this is just the first time that it happened in this part of Alaska" or they are saying "in just the past few years we've seen this occur in other parts of Alaska and Russia!"  The article leaves out crucial information such as just what they are talking about when they say "years past" — are they saying in recent years or do we have records of it happening decades/centuries ago?  Is this a recent change, or is this part of a cycle?  How far back do records of walrus behaviour in the area go?  What do the native peoples of those lands have to say about it?  Do the elders of their communities have any similar stories from the past?

    Without asking ourselves such questions, I worry that most people seeing this story will simply remember "melting sea ice causes walruses to crowd onto land and crush each other", i.e. "global warming caused walruses to die", especially if they don't read past the headline, which most people won't. (I suggest checking-out this article from the humour magazine Cracked titled 6 Subtle Ways The News Media Disguises Bullshit As Fact for more examples of how the MSM skews and misrepresents info in this manner.)

    Since it also seems that the world is going to start acting on ACC, then I truly hope that the majority of scientists are correct about their assertion.  It seems to me that there is almost as much risk in following through on solutions to CO2-created climate change than there is in doing nothing.  I worry that working on CO2 is too narrow a focus and it seems to me that is treats the product of industrialisation as the problem, while ignoring the bigger questions about industrialisation itself.  It ignores our exhaustive quest for profit and expansion in the name of "progress".  Why don't we ask ourselves if we should build that 1000th condominium complex, or if we need a factory pumping out electronics which will be made obsolete in 2 years, or if we need to make plastic toys that our kids are going to get bored of in a week (and maybe even get sick from), rather than asking ourselves how we can continue to do all of these things whilst reducing CO2?  IMO, unfettered industrialisation is the problem and it doesn't simply affect the climate.  And whether or not some sort of major catastrophe is coming in the near future, or centuries from now, if we continue down this same path we will eventually make this Earth uninhabitable for many species, including our own.


    My uneducated and subjective opinion, for what it's worth (which is not much!)


    So in the end, what do I believe?  Well, given I have not personally seen or analysed the original data for myself (and, let's face it, even if I could get my hands on them, I wouldn't know the first thing to do with them), you should take the following opinion with a gain of salt the size of a basketball:

    I admit that there are issues that trouble me about those who are involved in publicly questioning or refuting ACC theory: There is certainly the fact that the vast majority I have come across are not scientists themselves.  Then there's the fact that the anti-ACC viewpoint is lauded by many so-called right-wingers who really have not studied the issue, but simply make the point of disagreeing with any theory that "lefty environmentalists" endorse, especially if it leads to policies that place "socialist" restrictions on corporations.  Conversely — and I say this having been one myself — I feel that there are many self-described left-wingers who agree with ACC theory without question just because it makes sense and/or they can see no reason how a bunch of scientists could be wrong. Unfortunately when the majority of people play the left-wing/right-wing game there are certain bandwagons onto which either side will automatically jump, whether they have truly investigated the issue for themselves or not. 

    I do not deny that the weather seems to be getting more and more severe and unpredictable, but I also acknowledge that I have no way to know this and that I am basing my opinions on the 3+ decades that I have been on this Earth (and the majority of those years spent solely listening to and trusting the MSM) which are but grains of sand on a beach when compared to the history of our planet.   I have not been keeping track of mean temperatures over my lifetime, and let's face it, the CLOGs, including those who run our education system, have been repeating the ACC mantra for quite some time, and if you repeat something enough, people tend to believe it. And it does seem that one hears much more about different natural disasters around the world these days, but I also realise that the media might simply be reporting on disasters more than they used to, particularly in parts of the world where climate activity would have been hard to come by prior to our interconnected on-line world and the capabilities of radar and other satellite-based diagnostic tools.  One also cannot deny the effect of 24 hour news stations on public opinion — what has been termed by some as the "CNN Effect".  Images of desecrated forests, crumbling icebergs plunging into the water, "stranded" polar bears, oil covered sea birds, and the aforementioned beaches crowded with walruses, make the people demand action, and so the government is forced to provide us a solution.  It doesn't mean the representatives of government actually believes in the issue, it just means that they want you to believe that they believe in the same things that you do.  And as I discussed in my post about the effectiveness public demonstrations, I wouldn't put it passed the CLOGs to subvert a cause which is close to the hearts of its populace to their own ends.

    The fact is, ACC theory rings a lot of bells in my skeptical brain; bells which I find hard to ignore.  Who knows, maybe I'll come across more information which will swing me back to the ACC side (if I do, you can be sure I'll make a new post about it!) And surely, if I'm lucky enough to live another half century or more, I might actually get to see for myself how these projected catastrophes pan out, because regardless of the ACC theory, I have my doubts that enough actions will be taken by the CLOGs of the world to prevent these projected catastrophes anyway.

    It's going to be an interesting ride, to say the least.


    Don't just take it from me...


    Please believe me when I say that I have been working on this post since July and then I came across this video posted to YouTube by James Corbett of the Corbett Report in November.  I must admit I was quite proud to find out that an MIT Professor of Meteorology and former IPCC report lead author echoed many of the statements I've made above.  Then my heart sank when I realised people might just assume I stole my opinions from this video.  You would be right to be skeptical, but I assure you this was pure happenstance.

    In the abovementioned video, Professor Richard S. Lindzen discusses what is actually confirmed by science when it comes to climate versus the conjecture made by climate models.  He states that there is no disputing that climate changes and that the greenhouse effect exists, and there is no disputing that humans have had some contribution to the climate, but he also states that scientists don't know to what level this human effect really has on climate.  He also states that the current models greatly exaggerate the effects of climate's sensitivity to human activity and that there is no evidence to suggest that we are facing a global warming catastrophe in the near future if such human activity was to continue.  He also talks about the interests vested in the global catastrophe scenario and how the environmental movement like to jump on such scary scenarios in order to push action on the issue.

    And I'm sure there are those who will argue "Yeah, but Lindzen is just one scientist..."  Fair enough, but as Gandhi once put so very eloquently: "Even if I am a minority of one, truth is still the truth".



    For those who want to further investigate some ACC theory counter arguments

    For anyone wishing to further investigate the problems with and counter-arguments to ACC theory I would suggest the following videos as a starting point (including some of the videos already mentioned above):

    • The BBC documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle - 1:15:56 (After you watch this, keep in mind that there have been many critiques of this documentary and so for the sake of balance you should also google "The Great Global Warming Swindle debunked" and go from there.)
    • The Freedomain Radio Interview with Warren Meyer mentioned above - 1:11:08
    • Warren Meyer's video What is Normal? A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory - 54:34
    • This presentation by Australian professor and geologist Bob Carter.  - 36:25
    • This article written by Nigel Calder, a former editor of New Scientist, where he talks about the politicization of the ACC issue and how it stifled research that countered ACC theory.  He also speaks to how evidence counter to ACC theory doesn't get discussed in the public arena (such as how the Artic sea ice has diminished and yet Antarctic ice has actually increased, as well as the effects of the solar activity on climate.)
    • This article by magician, professional skeptic and proponent of critical thinking James Randi.  Much like Warren Meyer, he doesn't deny that scientific data indicates a recent increase in global temperature, but he does question the "certainties" proposed by ACC theory.  As a result of the response to that article he wrote this follow-up article titled "I'm not 'denying' anything" where he admits, like myself, that he is no expert, and posts some of the critiques of his previous article.
    • James Corbett of the Corbett Report also does a great analysis of the UEA email leak in his video titled Climategate: 1 year later - 12:47
    • And if you're curious to read the East Anglia emails, an individual took it upon themselves to catalogue them on the website eastangliaemails.com. And for those who like MSM sources on the issue, here are a couple of articles from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. 

      Tuesday, January 25, 2011

      New posts to come


      Wow.  So it's been over 3 months already since my last post.  I've had about a half-dozen posts on the go now since at least the summer.  I forgot how challenging it is to write!  I haven't had to do any writing of any great significance since high school.  If anything, this blog has definitely given me some well needed practice.

      I think I might also be getting harder on myself as I go along; I'm dealing with a lot of subject matter which is outside of the mainstream and so I guess I feel the need to be a lot more careful with my fact checking and providing links and reading material which back-up my claims.  I also find myself trying to preemptively address the many arguments one can make against the opinions expressed in my posts, which I realise is an impossible task.  This in no doubt stems from my own propensity to be critical of people who make weak arguments or arguments based on faulty logic.  Heaven knows I do it too, but now I'm more conscious of it, so much to the point that it's slowing down my progress quite a bit. 

      So I've been feeling pressure lately to post something, anything, to keep people interested in this blog o' mine.  I just want to assure the few of you who follow it that I haven't disappeared.  Here are a few things I am working on and hope to post in the near future:
      • The Climate Change debate
      • Wikileaks: Benevolent truth seekers or something else?
      • The importance of empathy and mindfulness
      • More on my move from being a self-described left-winger towards the ideas of anti-statism
      So, fingers crossed, I hope to actually post something new soon.  Rest assured, I'm working on it.